By Mint Julep

Willis Sharpe Kilmer Owner: One Kentucky Derby Winner

kentucky derby winner exterminator 1918

Discover the fascinating life of Willis Sharpe Kilmer, a marketing innovator, journalist, and entrepreneur celebrated for his achievements in thoroughbred racing. Learn about his early success promoting Swamp Root patent medicine, his ventures into real estate, and breeding renowned racehorses like Reigh Count. Explore Kilmer’s charitable work and enduring impact on the advertising industry as you dive into the legacy of this influential individual.

Early Life and Family Background

Originating from Brooklyn, New York, Willis Sharpe Kilmer was a dynamic individual driven by an unwavering desire for success. His journey at Cornell University in 1890 kickstarted his path to future achievements. Apart from academics, he explored various fields such as marketing innovation and journalism.

Kilmer’s talent for seizing opportunities led him into diverse ventures – ranging from horse breeding to entrepreneurial endeavors. This adaptable mindset propelled him towards a life filled with exciting experiences and notable accomplishments that shaped his legacy.

In the midst of his adventurous spirit and broad interests, Kilmer found his place in the competitive business world through strategic decision-making and relentless perseverance. He stood out as a visionary leader whose influence extended far beyond traditional boundaries.

The foundation of Kilmer’s entrepreneurial drive can be traced back to his upbringing – where resilience and ambition were instilled by parents who believed in fostering not only potential but also character development. These formative years played a key role in shaping Kilmer’s approach towards challenges and opportunities ahead.

Within Willis Sharpe Kilmer’s life story lies an inspiring narrative woven with threads of determination, foresight, and unwavering dedication – marked by crucial moments deeply rooted within familial ties and early influences that molded the man behind the legend.

Introduction to Patent Medicine Business

Willis Sharpe Kilmer didn’t just dip his toes into the patent medicine business; he embarked on a journey that transformed a simple formula into a household name. He took charge of marketing from his uncle and grandfather, propelling Swamp Root to incredible fame with innovative advertising strategies that captivated the public’s interest. The story began in 1878 when Dr. S. Andral Kilmer created this elixir, passing it down to Jonas Kilmer before ultimately ending up in Willis’ capable hands.

Under Willis’ leadership, Swamp Root went from being just another remedy to becoming an iconic brand known for promoting health and vitality throughout America. His sharp promotional skills turned what once was a family tradition into a renowned empire celebrated for its effectiveness and widespread appeal. Through careful planning and daring actions, he revolutionized how patent medicines were marketed, setting new standards in branding that left competitors trailing behind.

His expertise was such that Swamp Root ceased to be simply a product; it became ingrained in popular culture—a testament to Willis Sharpe Kilmer’s forward-thinking approach towards advertising within the realm of patent medicine businesses at large. In essence, his early efforts laid the groundwork for future entrepreneurial innovations that would reverberate through generations—an enduring legacy impacting industry practices as well as consumer perceptions alike.

The Pros & Cons of Racing Legends


  1. Racing legends motivate and excite future generations of athletes and sports fans.

  2. They demonstrate the strong connection between humans and horses, inspiring admiration.

  3. Racing legends unite communities by igniting shared enthusiasm and energy.

  4. Their tales often feature themes of persistence, commitment, and overcoming obstacles.

  5. They enrich the vibrant history and customs of horse racing.

  6. Racing legends can inspire us as examples of determination, hard work, and excellence to emulate.


  1. Horse racing is a super competitive sport that can stir up controversies and disagreements.

  2. The pressure to excel in horse racing can be tough on both the horses and their trainers.

  3. Injuries are a big concern for famous racehorses, affecting their health and how long they can compete.

  4. Sometimes, winning becomes so important in horse racing that we forget about other key aspects like horsemanship and animal welfare.

  5. Some people say that making money off of horse racing exploits these amazing animals just for profit.

  6. Being famous in horse racing brings a lot of attention and high expectations which might create stress for the legends, impacting their well-being.

Expansion Into Real Estate Ventures

Kilmer was a savvy entrepreneur who thrived in the fast-paced business world of the early 1900s, adapting quickly to new regulations. His sharp instincts led him to explore real estate opportunities beyond his initial patent medicine ventures. In Binghamton, NY, he erected the impressive Kilmer Building as a symbol of his vision and ambition, making it a prominent feature of the local area. Another notable project was the twelve-story Press Building created for The Binghamton Press Co., leaving an enduring mark on both industry and skyline.

But Kilmer didn’t stop there – he expanded his real estate empire far and wide across different locations. By establishing racing stables and estates, he not only showcased his investment prowess but also revealed his passion for thoroughbred racing. For him, success meant more than just financial gain; it embodied prestige and left behind a lasting legacy. These properties were not just physical structures; they represented Kilmer’s dreams coming to life as horses thundered towards victory under banners bearing names synonymous with excellence.

Despite regulatory shifts that affected traditional businesses like patent medicine, Willis Sharpe Kilmer demonstrated remarkable adaptability by branching out into unconventional realms like real estate. His foray into this field wasn’t merely about acquiring land; it was about building legacies both tangible and intangible. From towering skyscrapers to sprawling estates echoing with the sounds of elite racehorses sprinting towards triumph—each investment spoke volumes about Kilmer’s skill in seizing opportunities that transcended mere property transactions.

Thoroughbred Racing Success

Kilmer loved breeding top-notch horses and had great success on the racetrack. His favorite horse, Reigh Count, won the famous Kentucky Derby in 1928, showing off Kilmer’s talent-spotting abilities and his love for racing. He also owned Exterminator, who was a winner at the 1918 Kentucky Derby – solidifying Kilmer’s reputation as a big deal in the world of horse racing. Sun Briar was another one of Kilmer’s star horses that did really well financially until Seabiscuit surpassed him almost twenty years later.

These wins not only made Kilmer famous but also showed how well he understood these amazing animals’ potential on the track. By carefully choosing which horses to breed together and making smart investments in training, he left behind a legacy that people admired throughout many generations. Each victory meant more than just winning a prize; it proved his dedication to excellence and respect for these incredible creatures.

Kilmer was passionate about thoroughbred racing himself – diving into every aspect of this intense sport from studying bloodlines closely to observing each horse’s unique qualities with great interest. His success wasn’t just about trophies or awards but creating long-lasting impacts within an industry where skilled horsemanship meets deep passion.

Looking back, Willis Sharpe Kilmer turned thoroughbred racing into an art form by spotting raw talent and turning them into champions like Reigh Count and Exterminator. His influence still echoes through time as proof of how one person’s love for horses went beyond mere competition – leaving hoofprints deeply etched in history books alongside stories that keep inspiring both experienced jockeys and new fans today!

Life in Brief: Willis Sharpe Kilmer

Information Details
Name Willis Sharpe Kilmer
Born October 18, 1869
Place of Birth Brooklyn, New York
Died July 12, 1940
Age 70 years old
Nationality American
Education Cornell University
Occupation(s) Advertising, newspaperman, horse breeder, and patent medicine entrepreneur
Parent(s) Jonas M. Kilmer, Julia Sharpe Kilmer
Relatives Dr. Sylvester Andral Kilmer, Joyce Kilmer

Wealth Accumulation Through Patent Medicine Sales

Willis Sharpe Kilmer’s rise to success was a captivating story woven with the magic of Swamp Root, a special tonic that sparked both controversy and cash flow. Despite facing accusations of being a fake cure without solid proof for treating kidney or liver issues, Kilmer managed to create a thriving business around its sales. Records indicate he made an incredible fortune of about $15 million by tirelessly promoting and selling this elixir all across the country.

As critics attacked Swamp Root, doubting its effectiveness and labeling it as just another useless remedy, Kilmer stayed focused on his goal of building wealth. With sharp business skills guiding his decisions, he navigated through challenges where doubt clashed with achievement. The popularity of the tonic soared thanks to his clever marketing strategies even though some people still questioned its medical benefits.

Kilmer’s financial success rose on waves created by powerful advertising combined with unwavering belief in his product. While skeptics cast doubts over Swamp Root’s reputation, Kilmer used his entrepreneurial spirit to protect himself from negative comments aimed at damaging his profitable venture. His talent for crafting stories that captured consumers’ attention went beyond simple sales tactics; it became an art form etched into history books as part of advertising legacy.

Despite rumors painting Swamp Root as a questionable mixture lacking scientific evidence or healing properties for kidney or liver problems, Kilmer’s ability to turn challenges into opportunities pushed him toward financial milestones that few could dream of reaching in their lifetime. From humble beginnings emerged an empire built on resilience despite criticism—a true testament not only to Kilmer’s financial savvy but also to his determination when faced with adversity swirling like storm clouds above him.

Philanthropic Legacy

Willis Sharpe Kilmer was not only a successful entrepreneur, but also a generous philanthropist who supported various causes. He believed in giving back to the community and helping those in need. Kilmer set up scholarships for students aspiring to further their education and contributed to schools that required financial assistance. His dedication to improving healthcare was remarkable; he funded medical research, public health initiatives, and projects aimed at ensuring everyone had access to quality care.

Kilmer’s impact went beyond his local area – his contributions reached communities far and wide, making a positive difference in society. In Binghamton, where he lived, Kilmer played a significant role in community development. He invested in revitalizing neighborhoods and funding infrastructure projects that enhanced residents’ quality of life.

Instead of just writing checks, Kilmer actively engaged with causes close to his heart by working alongside like-minded individuals on social issues such as education opportunities and healthcare reforms for underserved populations. His hands-on approach demonstrated his commitment to driving meaningful change.

The legacy of Willis Sharpe Kilmer lives on through the institutions he supported financially or guided towards success strategically. His vision extended beyond monetary donations; it included empowering those dedicated to addressing societal challenges head-on.

In each donation made and cause championed lies proof of Kilmer’s belief that wealth can be used not only for personal gain but also as a force for good within struggling communities—a beacon illuminating paths toward hope amidst darkness while inspiring future generations yet unborn who may one day carry on his legacy.

Enthralling Tales of a Derby Champion's Legacy

  1. ### The Fascinating Story of a Derby Champion's Impact

  2. **Unexpected Start:** Willis Sharpe Kilmer, who owned the Kentucky Derby winner Exterminator, didn't plan on getting into horse racing. He stumbled upon the world of thoroughbred racing by accident and soon became one of its most successful owners.

  3. **Exterminator's Modest Beginnings:** Exterminator, nicknamed "Old Bones" for his slender build, was bought by Kilmer for just $Despite his unremarkable appearance, Exterminator rose to fame as one of the most adored and accomplished racehorses of his era.

  4. **Innovative Training Techniques:** Kilmer stood out for his creative training methods, like giving Exterminator a daily ration of buttermilk and letting him roam freely in a nearby pasture at times. These distinctive approaches contributed to making Exterminator an enduring and resilient champion.

  5. **Rivalry with Man o' War:** One of Exterminator's notable rivalries was with the iconic racehorse Man o' War. Despite often being seen as the underdog in their races, Exterminator triumphed over Man o' War in several thrilling contests, cementing his place in racing history.

  6. **Lasting Influence:** Even years after retiring from competition, Exterminator's influence remains strong among racing enthusiasts. His extraordinary journey continues to motivate new generations passionate about horse racing by highlighting the lasting impact of perseverance and determination in sports.

Mausoleum Interment

After Kilmer passed away from pneumonia on July 12, 1940, he was laid to rest in a mausoleum at Floral Park Cemetery in Johnson City near Binghamton. He was buried alongside his family members. The peaceful atmosphere of the mausoleum honors Kilmer’s lasting impact and contributions across various fields during his life.

Kilmer’s final resting place reflects the profound influence he had not only in horse racing and advertising but also as a generous philanthropist who touched many lives. His eternal presence in this tranquil sanctuary represents the enduring effect he had both professionally and personally.

The mausoleum stands as proof of Willis Sharpe Kilmer’s significant role in history – someone who tirelessly pursued excellence while embodying values like integrity, dedication, and innovation. In death as well as in life, Kilmer remains immortalized among those who journeyed with him – an inspiration for future generations to come.

Impact on Advertising Industry

Willis Sharpe Kilmer changed the advertising industry by using innovative marketing techniques. When he advertised Swamp Root tonic, he was ahead of his time and showed his visionary approach to advertising. Kilmer’s bold campaigns didn’t just make the product popular but also set a new standard for effective ways to promote products in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Kilmer was creative and strategic in his marketing ventures, making him a pioneer in the field. Even when some criticized Swamp Root tonic’s effectiveness, Kilmer stayed focused on building its brand through captivating ads that got people talking. He used different media channels and persuasive messages to make Swamp Root a household name at a time when traditional advertising ruled.

Kilmer’s marketing skills went beyond just selling products; they changed how businesses thought about branding and connecting with consumers. Through his campaigns, Kilmer proved that storytelling could shape public opinion and boost sales—a concept still relevant in today’s ads.

Kilmer left a lasting impact on advertising, showing others how to innovate and adapt to changing markets. His work paved the way for future advertisers to try new tactics and focus on customers—a model still shaping modern marketing strategies worldwide.

In short, Willis Sharpe Kilmer had an enduring influence on advertising—an entrepreneur whose groundbreaking ideas forever altered how brands engage their audiences today. His legacy reminds us that innovation combined with determination can break barriers regardless of age or market trends—lessons inspiring marketers navigating today’s ever-changing commercial world.

Racing Stable Ownership

Kilmer’s venture into owning a racing stable was like making a big entrance at the racetrack – daring, ambitious, and destined for success. With a sharp eye for talent and an unwavering love for horse racing, he put together a group of stables that included some of the best horses in the business. From the famous Reigh Count to the powerful Exterminator, Kilmer’s horses made history with their grace and unmatched strength.

Jumping right into thoroughbred racing circles wasn’t just about fame or money for Kilmer; it was his personal passion played out on tracks all over the country. By nurturing champions under his careful watch, he became more than just an owner – he was like a conductor leading symphonies of speed and skill. Each win not only meant something to him but also left spectators in awe as they watched his dedication unfold trackside.

His stables were more than just places where prized horses stayed; they were havens of dreams where hopes soared high like stallions running free in fields. Kilmer didn’t simply have racehorses; he saw them as part of himself – each hoofbeat reflecting his drive for excellence with every step taken towards victory. By fostering competition within these stables, Kilmer secured his place among legends in racing history whose stories still echo through time even today.

Historical Context Surrounding Swamp Root Formula

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Willis Sharpe Kilmer introduced Swamp Root to the market when many American households relied on patent medicines. These tonics claimed to cure various illnesses without scientific proof or regulation. However, as laws like the Pure Food and Drug Act were put into place, demanding honesty in labeling and proven health benefits, products such as Swamp Root came under scrutiny for their unproven effectiveness.

Kilmer marketed Swamp Root by adapting to changing advertising rules. He used creative methods to promote his product, using newspapers and almanacs to reach a broad audience. His success in promoting Swamp Root demonstrated not only his business skills but also showed how companies adjusted to new regulations aimed at protecting consumers from false health claims.

Despite facing challenges due to increased oversight in healthcare driven by laws like the Pure Food and Drug Act, Kilmer maintained interest in Swamp Root through strategic branding efforts. By building trust among customers with testimonials and endorsements—common tactics employed by many makers of patent medicines at that time—he kept a loyal customer base even amid growing doubts about unproven medical solutions.

The rise and fall of products like Swamp Root highlighted broader changes occurring in society’s views on healthcare practices during that period. As stricter rules surrounded questionable health remedies, businesses had no choice but to adapt or risk becoming obsolete—a testament not just to Kilmer’s resilience as an entrepreneur but also indicative of wider shifts influencing consumer protection laws across industries relying on untested medical claims.


1. How did Willis Sharpe Kilmer rise to prominence in the advertising industry?

Willis Sharpe Kilmer became a well-known figure in the advertising world by creating cutting-edge marketing tactics, especially with his effective promotion of Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root Kidney Cure. He used bold advertising campaigns and was a trailblazer in direct mail marketing techniques to successfully market the product.

2. What role did Willis Sharpe Kilmer play in the success of Exterminator, the Kentucky Derby champion?

Willis Sharpe Kilmer made a crucial impact on Exterminator's triumph as the Kentucky Derby winner. He bought the overlooked horse for only $9,000 and turned him into a renowned racehorse with his expert care and training.

3. How did Kilmer's early life and upbringing influence his entrepreneurial ventures?

Willis Sharpe Kilmer's father instilled a strong work ethic in him during his upbringing, which influenced his entrepreneurial ventures later in life. This foundation shaped his determination and innovative spirit as he pursued various business opportunities.

4. What philanthropic contributions did Willis Sharpe Kilmer make during his lifetime?

During his life, Willis Sharpe Kilmer gave back to the community by supporting different charities, creating the Kilmer Foundation for Children, and helping to improve Saratoga Springs through his generosity and involvement.

5. In what ways did Kilmer revolutionize advertising strategies during his career?

Willis Sharpe Kilmer transformed advertising methods by leading the way in using new marketing tactics, like sharing stories from happy customers and getting endorsements from famous people. These strategies helped him effectively promote his products and create strong customer loyalty.

6. How did Willis Sharpe Kilmer's passion for thoroughbred racing shape his legacy in the sport?

Willis Sharpe Kilmer's love for horse racing drove him to own the famous racehorse Exterminator, affectionately called "Old Bones." His dedication to breeding, racing, and promoting excellence in the sport firmly established his reputation as a key figure in thoroughbred racing.